"It was a beautiful day, picture perfect," recalls Sandy Anderson, widow of Payload Commander Michael Anderson.
"[It] couldn't have been better. We were having a great time … we were all happy, the kids were happy, Daddy's finally going to be home."
Sixteen days after the shuttle Columbia roared into space with its seven astronauts on board, it was "all systems go" for a picture perfect landing.
"It's just the sense of anticipating at that point," says Anderson. "We didn't know anything was wrong, so when the clock struck zero and we didn't hear the sonic boom and we didn't see anything, you begin to get a little concerned, you have a feeling this is not quite right."
And it wasn't. Just minutes before landing, mission control lost contact with Columbia. The shuttle had disintegrated in the skies over west Texas, leaving no survivors. Only debris rained down on the ground below.
"I began to pray is what happened to me," Anderson told The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler. "I just remember it was horrible. I just remember that I never want to repeat a day like that again."
Since then, she said, she and her family have found strength in the religious beliefs: "That's not to say that we don't cry and have hard times," she explained, "but when we grieve it's not a despair…We trust the Lord. If he's dead, he's with the Lord."
And despite the heartache, she wants to see the manned space program continue.
"He was, I'd say, a lifer," Andersons said of her astronaut-husband. "If he would be able to have it his way, we would be the first family on Mars. So he was in it for the long haul and I can think of no better tribute to Michael, my husband, to the rest of the crew than to get this program up and
She said her husband was keenly aware of the dangers of space travel. "I was OK with it," she said. "It's something that he really wanted to do so I wanted to support him on that."
Anderson said her husband also was aware of being a role model for African-Americans. "For kids in our community," she said, " he really wanted to get the message through to them that they needed to take more math and more science and they can do anything they set their mind to do"
The Anderson's have two daughters, 11-year-old Sydney and 9-year-old Kaycee. Their mother said they are doing well, but have difficult moments.
"When we went to sign up for the little sports activities," she said, "Kaycee said to me, 'You know I really wanted Daddy to see me play' and they miss Daddy. They miss Daddy being there and coaching them, those kind of things."
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